Survivors: Hiroshima, the Holocaust and the Rise of Global Memory Culture

Dr Ran Zwigenberg (Pennsylvania State University)
27 November 2014

This session is jointly sponsored by the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck University of London.

Dr Ran Zwigenberg from Pennsylvania State University talks about how Hiroshima and the Holocaust can be compared, in terms of them both being global events with lasting effects. He starts by outlining how Hiroshima was initially seen as an event that came out of nowhere, meaning that people were able to ascribe their own importance to it. This led to the public narrative becoming one of ‘peace through sacrifice’, as a consequence of the lack of retaliation by Japan.

Zwigenberg explores how the people of Hiroshima looked towards the future, both by rebuilding the city in its original form, but also its rebranding as a city of peace, a project which aimed to help reconstruct lives on a personal level. He explains how the survivors were initially neglected as they were seen as polluted, and so had to work together to create a movement that allowed them to stand up in front of the world and state how war is evil.

Zwigenberg then moves on to the Holocaust, where survivors did not speak up at first. Many were made to feel ashamed by those who believed they had committed immoral acts to survive, and so did not believe their stories. They did eventually learn to be proud and to stand up and tell their stories and share their experience, and this led to the forging of links between Holocaust and Hiroshima survivors.

In the final section of his talk, Ran talks about how the Poles from Auschwitz and the survivors from Hiroshima doubled up their efforts to create peace in the world, and created a Hiroshima-Auschwitz committee which held exhibitions for 15 years. However, by the 1980s and 1990s the idea of the ‘noble victim’ was dying out, being replaced by a competition between victims, and these exhibitions ceased. The ashes of victims and other objects from these events have now become a small memorial in a tomb, attended every year by an abbot and usually a few nuns.

He ends the talk by explaining that it is difficult to build on pain and hurt as these emotions can often be very localised, and therefor limited solely to those communities directly affected.

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